7 ACTIONS WE TOOK TO ELIMINATE $650,000 IN DEBT
One of the biggest components of our Financial Independence journey is that, when we began, we were carrying over a million dollars in debt. Eliminating such a huge amount debt was going to be key to our reaching our financial goals. Today we share part of our story and the seven actions we have taken to eliminate $650,000 in debt.
Starting With 1 Million in Debt
When I stumbled upon the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement about four years ago, we were drowning in debt. Hopeless. Certain that we would be broke forever. I was in the middle of a career crisis and suffering from extreme burnout. But we had also just adopted four children, doubling our family of four to a family of eight – quitting was simply an impossibility.
In a moment of desperation – I turned to the Interwebs. All the answers are on the Interwebs, right? Searching for a way to make money online so I could get rich and work from home and raise my kids, I somehow stumbled upon the MadFientist.
He is a regular guy, an engineer, who saved over 50% of his income and was able to retire early and do whatever he wanted. Mind. Blown. It got me thinking, if a regular person can save 50% of their income and live however they wanted – certainly there was a way for us to do it too.
The next two years was a deep dive into the FIRE community. I consumed everything – blogs, books, podcasts, joined groups. I was hooked – I was a FIRE junkie.
In July of 2017 – a little over two years ago, after running some calculations in Personal Capital, I was able to figure out how much we needed to save and, to my surprise, it was much less than I imagined. That one thing – “mathing that shit up” as our friends Christy and Bryce of Millennial Revolution would say – and seeing the actual numbers as they pertained to our family – was the “fire” we needed under our feet to devise a plan.
Debt Elimination Action 1 : Drastically Reducing Expenses
That first year, we cut everything. EV.ER.Y.THING. We reviewed our bank statements and asked the question of every expense:
- ASK: Can I reduce this expense? or Can I eliminate it entirely?
From there we began to systematically pay off debt while simultaneously reducing our household expenses.
In that first year – we reduced our monthly expenses by $7,118.00. We also paid off $35,000.00 in debt and started contributing to Curt’s 403(b) and 457 retirement accounts. A first. Did I mention we were 46 at the time?
We were making amazing progress. We were filled with a hope for our future that we had never experienced before. Becoming debt-free was beginning to become a reality we could envision.
Debt Elimination Action 2 : Getting Your Partner on Board
GREECE – FI CHAUTAUQUA (Sept 2018)
In September of 2018, we decided to attend the FI Chautauqua in Greece. For me, it was an opportunity to meet some other people in the Financial Independence community as well as some of the people that had inspired me to make these big changes in our lives.
I am the money nerd in our family and, while Curt was a willing participant in our financial planning, I am certain our hearts were not in true alignment about our financial future. I LOVE spreadsheets like he loves playing Clash of Clans. We both could play with them for hours but have no interest in the others hobby.
When I told Curt we were going to Greece – he thought we were going on a vacation, which we were, but he wasn’t aware of the fact that it would be with about 30 other FI enthusiasts whom we had never met. Whoops!
He was quite surprised when we arrived and I am very proud of my husband for playing along that first night.
As I had hoped, Curt had many of his own moments while in Greece, for which I am grateful. The most wonderful part, though, is that he “got” it. It all clicked. He caught “on fire” too.
We were able to meet and get to know JL Collins, author of the must-read The Simple Path to Wealth, and discuss our plans for our finances and receive some of his insight and perspective.
The impact he has made in our lives has changed our family tree. I’m not sure he is aware of the depth of our gratitude for what he has helped spark.
We went home electrified with excitement about our future and made some pretty audacious goals for the coming year.
If you ask Curtis, he will tell you that it was my patience and persistence with him that helped him come on board. I had to understand that I had found this movement and had been consuming like a freight train - I needed to let him discover things in his own timing.
When we left the Greece Chautauqua, though we had made some great progress before even arriving, the reality was that we were still in almost one million dollars of debt and our expenses were still too high for me to stop working. We still had large mountains to climb.
Debt Elimination Action 3: Being Willing to Think Outside of the Box/Big Ticket Items
We came home and went to work. We began to think outside of the box and asked ourselves, what is the one thing we DO have? It was our house. After much thought, emotional footwork and more spreadsheets, we revised our plan, made some radical choices and started executing.
We weren’t sure if we would be able to pull it off but the numbers said it would work and what we have learned from the very beginning of this journey is this - MATH IS MATH. We decided to trust the numbers.
If you would like to hear more of how we arrived at the decision to sell our home and become renters, check out this Guest Post at Get Rich Slowly.
Debt Elimination Action 4 : Community
PORTUGAL – FI CHAUTAUQUA (Oct 2019)
Earlier this month we returned to the FI Chautauqua, this year in Portugal. We were eager to see friends, meet new ones – but also to share with the group how much they meant to us and how much of an impact the experience of being connected to such a wonderful community had made in our lives.
Very few people at the Chautauqua knew our entire story. They knew we had faced financial challenges and that we had a large family and that we had a blog and podcast – but I don’t think anyone really knew the extent of our financial situation.
We decided to share the difference 365 days between FI Chautauquas had made in our lives to the group. It meant so much to us to verbally express our gratitude to this group of amazing humans who had thrown us a life vest.
Debt Elimination Action 5: Implementing Different Strategies at Different Times
In the one year between the Greece and Portugal Chautauquas we have been able to accomplish the following:
- We sold our house and used the equity to pay off debt and invest.
- Our overall debt has been reduced by about $650,000.00!
- We now live on one income for the first time in our lives.
- I was able to retire my law practice in late 2018.
- We increased our savings rate to 29% (from about 5-7%).
- We reduced our monthly expenses in one year by $2,813.00. ($9,931.00 total monthly expenses cut since July of 2018.)
- We began real estate investing and will see a positive cash flow of $1100.00 a month from real estate investments.
- We are consumer debt free - all that remains are our student loans.
Even we are blown away by the progress that has been made. What is important to know is that we did not accomplish any of the above by simply doing one thing.
We made several different moves depending on where we were. Here are some of the different strategies we executed:
Debt Elimination Action 6: Used a Budget
We hope our story will encourage others that there is a way out of debt. It takes hard work and lots of sacrifice, but it is all worth it. And, the VERY BEST way to get through the hard times is to surround yourself with community and to have a plan that you can execute.
Your monthly budget is your blueprint. It doesn't need to be complicated. It can be as simple as a notebook and pencil, or like me use a spreadsheet, or use a printable template like the ones we have below.
Debt Elimination Action 7: Increased Income to Pay Down Debt
One of the final things we did to super-charge our debt elimination was to create extra income. Every little bit helped us pay down debt and save more money. We sold stuff. Curt picked up extra lunch duty and tutoring at school. I delivered groceries and did loan signings. For about a year, we just got super intense about doing whatever we could to expedite our debt payoff.
Do you need ideas? We did a video to help you get started on ideas.
Are You Part of a FIRE Community?
It doesn’t have to be a Chautauqua. Join a local meet-up or a Facebook Group. Listen to a podcast or audiobook. You matter and the very best way for you to stay focused and encouraged on this journey is to surround yourself with others who are like-minded and understand what you are trying to accomplish.
What's Next For Us?
We’re not done. We are still on the mountain. We are a lot closer to the top, and the view up here is spectacular, but we are nowhere near the summit.
We have a plan to attack our student loans, but the real focus is on our future.
Our main objective is to create a lasting legacy for our children and their children and the generations of children after them. We want to grow financially literate kids. We intend to involve them in the operation of our real estate investment business. We want to teach them that they don’t have to live life like everyone else. We don’t want them to ever have to grapple with six-digit student loan debt. We want them to understand that financial independence equals choice – freedom. That will be the true nature of our legacy.
So now, we build.
Love and Prosperity,
Wendy and Curtis